Category Archives: Small Business

Taboos in PR, What the Biz Exec Needs to Know

Every profession has taboos and things that tarnish reputations and business efforts. Public relations is no different. By knowing the taboos, business executives can do a better job finding the PR team that fits their needs, budget and culture.

7 PR Taboos Revealed, Attention Business Executives

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  1. A Press Release Is Not PR. No matter what anyone tries to sell you, one press release is not a business-changing event—or a public relations (PR) program. It is one component that is usually overused and sometimes useless. Effective PR requires a PR person—someone adept, experienced, creative and comfortable walking the tight rope between client needs and reporter needs. And pricing? NEVER pay more than a $500-$1,000 for someone to write a press release. Ever.
  2. No Value. If you don’t value PR, don’t do PR. Often, PR is perceived as a necessary evil – and a drain on the marketing budget. If the executive team doesn’t believe it can add value, allocate dollars elsewhere. Better yet, have someone explain its value—and how it compares to other communications efforts.
  3. Trust or Bust. If you can’t trust ‘em, fire ‘em. There are quality PR agencies and people who know the rules and boundaries—and have the news noses that matter. Sadly, there are many who don’t.
  4. Play Fair, Play Baseball. Not every news release or PR story idea will be a home run. And nobody hits home runs all the time. Expect PR to be like a baseball game. Sometimes there are first-base hits. Sometimes there are strike-outs. Clarify and manage expectations starting from day one. Be specific. Be real.
  5. Avoid Long Legs. I hate to admit what I’ve seen in my career. I know agencies who strut in the young account ladies to woo the prospects – most of whom were all-male Boomers who lapped up the extravagant beauty in the room. Sexism in galactic proportion. Don’t fall for the oldest trick in the book. Good PR is not sex, sizzle, short skirts and long legs. It’s about news smarts, big ideas, hard work and persistent outreach—and usually works best when involving energetic, personable men and women, no matter there age or body type.
  6. Know What You Pay For. So what should you pay for PR? It depends on scope and breadth, and monthly deliverables, all of which should be in a written plan. I’ve seen consistently successful PR programs for $1,500 per month (a small business client). I also recognize that PR programs can be $10K to $20K/month BUT know what you’re paying for, and avoid nickel-and-dimers.
  7. Madness Over Metrics. It’s the PR Achilles Heel. How the hell do you measure the value of a story in The Dallas Morning News? Is the story all about you? Are you one of several sources quoted in the article? Is your key message embodied in the story? Do you measure by number of “news hits” or rank stories in terms of message, or both? It’s a nightmare. Business executives rarely care to see anything except “tonnage”—the number of articles that includes the company name or an executive quote. There are tools for PR measurement. They cost a lot. In 25-plus years, I’ve had two clients willing to pay for such services. Work with your PR agency on the metrics. Stick to them and revise, as needed. Without metrics, there is no way to ascertain success.

This is not intended to assume that the PR industry or its people are largely flacks and quacks willing to cheat companies and clients. Not. Most PR people are hard-working, family-loving professionals doing a job. With integrity.

Now, share YOUR experience working with PR professionals.

Keep it PRactical.

-R

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Filed under CEO, news release, PR, PR agencies, press release, Public Relations, Small Business

You Matter, Even If You’re “Wrong”

Oh my, the things we do—and have done—to fit in.

As a kid, I can remember roaming the neighborhood with boys that were older than me. Yeah, which means I discovered cigarettes as a 10-year-old, saw my first Playboy by age 11 and found my next-door neighbor’s face stuck to what I thought was a glass vase. A bong.

boy4We all want to fit in, be accepted and be with the “in crowd.” So when we’re rejected, criticized, attacked or set apart—physically, relationally or emotionally—there’s great angst and irritation. Fear. Yet fitting in often conflicts with what is right, what is good, our values, beliefs and professional standards. So therein lies the struggle. So at what price do we choose to fit in? How willing are we to stand up for what we believe is true, good, just or unjust? Can we deal with scorn, rejection, disdain? Hate?

The Burden of Conviction

Professionally, PR folks have a code of ethics. In addition, we each have a personal code of conduct. So are we operating our lives, attitudes and actions in concert with the code, or have we become ambivalent or hardened by what we see and hear every day? I’m guilty. You are too. Yet increasingly, I find myself saying no more. Not now. I can’t allow this or that. I won’t tolerate this action or that inaction. I am re-discovering my personal conviction. It is this burden of conviction that we’ve lost somewhere along the way.

5 Challenges for You & Me

  1.  Be alert. Gulliver should have never taken a nap. Don’t sleep through your life. Awaken the heart and spirit. And mind. Live to effect change.
  2. Be informed. Know your stuff. Read. Read. Read. Study what’s being said, by whom. Ask questions, ask why. Today, information is rarely objective or “simple fact.” Example, if you agree with global warming, know why. If you don’t, know why.
  3. Be active. Knowledge without action is empty air and wasted time. Act. Do. Figure out “your part” at work, at home, in your neighborhood or nonprofit. It is the silent doers in the back that make the most impact. The famous and rich? Rarely.
  4. Be outspoken. There is so much clamoring that it’s often difficult to get a word in edge-wise. Share your convictions. Share what you believe is good and right. Agree to disagree, but enter into discourse and debate.
  5. Be you. Most importantly, you must remain true to who you are, what you believe and what is required of you. You matter. Your opinions are valid, whether I agree or not.

Whether we’re talking about our role in the workplace or as a parent – or as an American citizen tuned into the issues of the nation and world—we must respond to the burden of conviction. It’s about being true to one’s self. Thinking for yourself. And acting.

The time is now.

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Filed under America, PR, Roy Miller, Small Business, Uncategorized

Do Small Businesses Need a Marketing Communications Intervention?

Among small businesses, (500 employees or less), I find it rare that they much in the way of communicating with customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers, and even employees. Why? There are three primary reasons:

  1. Marketing is perceived as mysterious, and seems complicated.
  2. Sales is familiar and seems easy (I hire a sales guy, use Salesforce and dial for dollars).
  3. I’m too busy to think about it or do it (We’re developing products, ensuring service, hiring people, keeping people happy, fighting fires and meeting payroll, etc.).

When they meet communicators, they’re usually interested in what we have to say. We’re excited and more than willing to rattle off exactly what their business needs: “Social media is critical, public relations is essential and your website, sales materials and trade show stuff must be new, fresh, and compelling. And, of course, there’s the issue of your corporate brand and how all of this fits into an overall marketing communications strategy. So, let’s get started.”

The business owner is now catatonic. Eyes are glazed over. Is he or she breathing? Their business brains have gone straight to “oh my god”  and “there’s no way I can do all this—no time, no money, no people.”  We just assassinated our prospect.

Here’s how to slow down and showcase the role of marketing communications for small businesses in 7 simple steps:

  1. Break it down. No company can do everything all the time. Through a simple yet comprehensive planning session with the sales and executive team, we discover the business goals and efforts that are already planned. We align marketing efforts with business efforts. Business goals with marketing goals.
  2. Start small. If the business owner and the team are historically sales focused vs. marketing savvy, it’s critical to start small and get them comfortable with how marketing works—vs. sales. Starting small may mean implementing something as simple as a customer letter that is written, printed and mailed every quarterly. An easy First Step is a brief yet consistent e-mail “newsletter” to customers and prospects.
  3. Budget the basics. The same principle applies here. Don’t scope the marketing program so they have to put a lien on their building. Give them some practical perspectives, share a brief strategy/goals statement, and then break out the steps and tactics with hard numbers. Be precise and specific.
  4. Stay nearby and navigate with care. I find that entrepreneurs thrive amid chaos so keeping efforts focused, synced and timely are often the most difficult parts of the project. Pre-scheduled status meetings per week serve to remind everyone “who’s on first.” Keeping everyone committed, aware and engaged is 95 percent of the success factor.
  5. Make it easy. Do everything you can to eliminate redundancy, delays and to-dos. If it gets you what you need to accomplish the task, meet your client for a drink after hours or do a phone call after they tuck in their kids for bed. Accommodate them.
  6. Show progress. Don’t go silent and not correspond with the client for a week. Tune in, communicate and let them know something’s happening. I add calendar reminders called “Quick Touch/Client A” just so I reach out—even if there’s not a lot to say. Quick and easy.
  7. Step back. In our quest to act and generate results, we may forget the most important action required with clients: to listen. They are the experts in their business. We need to leverage that so we can improve and advance their cause—and ours.

When clients and communicators combine their competencies, long term, the outcome is extraordinary. There is strength in relationships and results.

Please follow me at http://www.twitter.com/practicalpr.

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Filed under marketing communications, PR, Roy G. Miller, Small Business, Uncategorized

F is for … (It’s not what you think)

My kids, they’re all adults now. Since the days when my oldest thought I was The Great Oz, I’ve preached a strong message: There is No Use of the F Word in This House.

My youngest and I were playing hoops one afternoon when I blocked a shot. His brow furrowed and he began complaining. “Dad, you can’t do that, it’s not F—.” He stopped. “Dad, it’s not F-A-I-R.” He spelled the one F word I have never allowed. “I didn’t say it Dad, I spelled it,” he said with a grin. A proud moment, I must admit. Regarding fairness, nothing is and nothing ever will be.  So let’s get over it.

IMG_8715fFor business owners and communicators, there is one F word we never discuss. It’s too personal, invites vulnerability and rattles our confidence.

Failure.  It’s hard to admit. In my life? Oh my, let’s see:

  • Dadhood. My greatest desire in life was to be a great husband and father. FAIL. I just wrapped up a divorce. My kids are wounded as a result. I’m engaged, available, interested and active in their lives. I love them more than life itself. But I made mistakes. And we all pay the price.
  • Perfect PR. I am ambitious, creative and have the temperament that makes me “unique” and “quirky,” per a couple of clients. They qualified the statements, “in a good way …” Yeah. Ha. I strived for perfection for a long time. FYI, if you think you can achieve perfection, find the closest mirror, look at yourself and slap yourself. It ain’t gonna happen on this side of the universe.
  • Money. I had a Dad who was extremely smart and wise about finances. He paid for most of my college. I had a car when I was legal to drive. I had more than I even knew. I haven’t been that wise or savvy so my family’s in a different situation, to my chagrin.

And you? Can you admit failure, and learn from it? I can and can’t. Sometimes I avoid the issue. I deny. I dive into work or other things that distract me and keep me away from reality, recognition and admission. It’s like those 12-Steppers and that first step: Admission begins the road to recovery.

I’m sure not excited about failure in my life. And I offer no Pollyanna advice or happy endings. But I do know that without it, I wouldn’t appreciate the triumphs and victories. And yes, I do feel better knowing that success is often bred from failure (thank God). These folks prove it.

  • Lincoln failed at politics initially. FYI, he became president.
  • Thomas Edison failed – his teachers called him stupid–an idiot who wouldn’t amount to anything.
  • Oprah failed. She was fired from her first TV job.
  • Walt Disney was called “unimaginative” with no good ideas.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC Cinematic Arts program. Several times.
  • Sanders couldn’t get anyone to buy his chicken. And then… yeah.
  • Fred Astaire, initially, was told he couldn’t sing or act. No talent.

See more …

What’s the point? Failing isn’t always the end of something. It can be the beginning. Usually painful, yes. Life changing? Often. But wholly destructive? Not usually.

So go ahead. Fail. Fall. Mourn. Admit.

And then try again.

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Filed under Dallas, PR, Roy G. Miller, Small Business, Small business PR

What’s Newsworthy? Execs, listen up

it’s IHOP and a 1:1 coffee break with a colleague–a company founder and executive–and he’s excited. His $5 million tech company has secured three new clients in the last two weeks. And the new website and partner portal are one pinch from being launched.

“I want us to announce it big–do a news release. Let everyone know that our website is spiffed up. It’s sweet.”

I fight back a yawn while remaining intensely focused on my colleague. How many times have  I sat face to face with a company leader who wants to announce a website re-launch. Dozens of times.

ImageSo my executive friends and business colleagues, please know that your communications consultant isn’t being cynical or superior when he or she resists your suggestion–or dictate–to do a news release about websites or version 3.4256758 of your software.

They’re doing their job. They’re making you look smart while advancing their reputation. Reporters receiving useless “news” go Pavlov when consistently receiving junk from a specific PR person or company. The more crap you send, the louder that Pavlovian “bell” rings and they react: Delete. Deny. Junk it. The DANGER: When you do have real news–real news–that bell will dispel your coverage opportunity.

Newsworthiness matters. It takes diligence, questioning, examining, pushing for validation and key points, identifying what are newsworthy elements–and what will the reporter/writer consider news? A Dallas Morning News reporter wants local relevance; A reporter at Supermarket News wants industry relevance. Your PR person knows the story angle, hooks, and what individual reporters really want.

What did my news radar target when meeting at IHOP with my CEO friend? Not “news release about our website.” I heard New Customers. That’s the news, especially if it’s in a niche industry, the customer offers innovation or is a top brand or publicly held company.

Executives, listen to your PR rep. Leverage their expertise.

PR friends, don’t crank a release out just because the boss “expects it.” Do your best to be strategic, to advise–even politely resist. Let your boss–and his or her boss–know there are other ways and better ways to Tell The Story.

Discover the real news. It matters.

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Filed under Media, news release, PR, press release, Public Relations, Small Business

How to Cheat Clients and The Value of Your Company

We were told we needed to brainstorm ideas for a client. Can we stop what we’re doing and go to the conference room. We all piled into the room, sat in our chairs and waited for the company pariah to enter. And share his ideas. We’d pretend to brainstorm, then parrot the incredibly creative ideas from Mr. Pariah. His ideas were the best, so the ideas were written down, and we all moved on. Another wasted hour sitting in a room and sucking up.

Now let’s move to a different time and place. The agency needs to quickly create a leave-behind for a client. One agency employee—a writer—suggests brainstorming ideas. He’s told he’s a writer in a different group. Ideas and concepts are the job of the creative design team. Uh. OK.

Another shot across the career spectrum. There’s a call for a brainstorming session. This time, the room is outfitted for comfort. There’s food, drinks, a whiteboard, notepads on easels, markers, paper. Even crayons. The focus: What ideas can we muster up for the agency itself? How can we best showcase the agency strengths and communicate them consistently. Ideas were shared, no matter how crazy. And were written down. No idea evaluation or criticisms. Just ideas.

I can’t think of a word or exercise that is more overused and misused than “brainstorming.”  The sad reality is that those who should know the value of collective creativity—putting crazy creative types in a room together—can yield brilliance, clarity and wham-bang ideas (and some craziness too). It’s all good. As professional communicators, it’s our jobs to collaboratively develop the best ideas for our clients–and to foster an environment for brainstorming.

The best ideas come from best practices. Yep, one best practice is brainstorming, working together and seeing value in every individual, no matter their title, department or perceived strengths or weaknesses. Anything short of this is is milk toast and gray matter, and certainly far from excellence.

So why is it so hard for creative types – usually graphic designers, copywriters and marketing strategists – to hole up in a room and share ideas? Smart ideas. Stupid ones. Funny ones. Why?

Based on my experience, here are the top 5 reasons why
brainstorming is busted
:

1. The Temperaments. Sometimes personalities clash. So we avoid contact. A designer once told me, “The only people who are more temperamental than writers are designers.” I’ve been in sessions where both types gather and the duel for control begins. It ruins all the creative energy and fuels more battles. I’ve been there and learned myself. Guilty as charged.

2. The Territories. I’ve heard these statements from real people: “I’m creative, you are not.”I’m in the Creative Arts department, are you?”  and “Why do we need a copywriter to sit in on a ;graphic design’ concept meeting?” Wow. Wrong mentality, attitude and approach. If someone thinks they’re more creative—or the only creative—that’s a problem.

3. The Threat & Inferiority. A creative director or team that feels threatened by others—and other ideas—struggle with inferiority. They feel threatened and fear  others who may be  “more creative than me.” I’ve learned that great creative comes from great people, and to recognize them for their talent. There’s enough glory to go around.

4. The Time.  Who’s got time for another freakin’ meeting? Let me do my real job. No wonder that’s the prevalent attitude. Brainstorming is too often a torturous exercise in futility.

5. The Working Wounded. If someone absolutely runs from a brainstorming session, it’s likely they’ve been wounded at some point. They were embarrassed or criticized. Or both. Great brainstorming includes NO evaluation or opinions about others’ ideas.

Here’s the bottom line: Improper, impotent brainstorming yields nothing. Worse, it’s the best way to cheat our clients and the valuable services we offer as communicators. Shame on us.

What is your opinion or war story? Please share.

Our next post offers advice for effective brainstorming.

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Why you should say “Hell No!” to a PR internship that pays nothing

I said “Hell no!” and that was 1985 and 1986. I still did two internships, one with the American Paint Horse Association and another with Texas Power & Light.

If I can do it prehistorically, you can too. If you’re on the hiring side of finding internships to sweat their butts off for your organization – and to do it for no pay – I say “no way” and shame on YOU.

Two of my favorite mottos:

  • “But that’s unfair…” Get over it. Nothing’s fair. Ever.
  • “Hey, look, it’s FREE.” Wrong. There is nothing FREE in this world. Nothing. Get over it.

Yeah, my kids really love me for these.

So why has the practice of hiring and NOT paying  interns for their work so prevalent in the PR, advertising and marketing agencies, from big agency to solo shops? I don’t understand the rationale from either side of the fence.

Rather than pontificate, let’s go to the folks who really know. Employers and interns.

The Best Internship (Corporate) I’ve EVER heard about: Accor North America
“We DO employ interns, and we DO pay them. Because we are a French company, most of our interns come from France – where 6-month internships are required in order to earn a university degree. We employ both Bachelor and Master degree candidates in a variety of fields … our interns enjoy a free room at Motel 6, access to a car, and are eligible for free nights at Motel 6 for every vacation day they earn. We work with our HR partners in France to select and hire interns year-round. Source: Suzanne Keen, senior director of communications, change and diversity.” Hmmm, wonder if they’d consider me an intern! Wow.

The only downside? If you don’t know French, you may be in trouble. Not so much. Keen says that Accor North America also hires American interns, but opportunities and employment parameters differ.

But what about those in the PR/Advertising/marketing Agency world?

I went straight to the colleagues I know. Blake Lewis, APR, principal and senior consultant at Lewis Public Relations in Dallas, says the firm does hire interns, and pays them approximately $10 per hour. Interns can be college freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. He says he makes hiring decisions based on a student’s previous experience, demonstrated skill sets/abilities, attitude and appropriate activities anticipated to be in the agency at the time of the internship.” Ultimately, it’s about talent and experience, not how many years of college.

Then he stated something that jarred my thinking.

If clients are billed for their work, it’s a professional gig.

That means the law requires payment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Holy Bigshaft Batman! Duh, of course! So, now, it’s not only Total Idiocy for a college student to accept a free internship and may even be illegal for employers to even offer them.

According to a 2009 article on the MSNBC Website:

Owners who take on unpaid interns should be familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which details the criteria that an internship must meet in order for the intern to not be paid. The law regards an internship as a training program.
Under the FLSA, an intern must receive training similar to that offered in a vocational school. The training must be for the benefit of the intern. The intern must not displace, or do the work of, a regular employee. The law also states that an employer must receive no immediate advantage from what an intern does. That might jeopardize the unpaid status of many internships — if an intern, say, stuffs envelopes for mailing, helps to manufacture products or performs other services that benefit an employer.

On onedayinternship.com, an article about this issue states that:

“… the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division created a test to determine whether a “trainee” or intern is considered an “employee” based on a 1947 Supreme Court decision that evaluated whether “prospective train yard brakemen were ‘employees’ within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” The test requires that all 6 of the following statements are true about the intern’s time with the company.

1. If the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;

2. If the training is for the benefit of the trainee;

3. If the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;

4. If the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;

5. If the trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;

6. If the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

This is the law. If any one of these six statements is not true about a given internship, then the interns are considered “employees” and are subject to the monetary provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means that the interns are entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation. The situation gets a bit more confusing when you start interpreting what each of the six “tests” means. This page from the Texas State government sheds some light on some of the exceptions based on interpretations of the law, but it still doesn’t answer our question.”

Clear as mud, I’d say.

Regardless, I say to students, “Hell No,” to free.

To employers and agencies, “Stop it.” Respect that every student has bills and costs, and a motivation to show up every morning and do a good job. Not just any job. YOUR clients deserve it too.

What do YOU think?

The PRactical PR Guy

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The 7 Press Release Must-Knows for CEOs and executives, part 2

Yesterday, we began a post, “7 Press Release Must-Knows for CEOs, CFOs and executives,” and shared initial insights, plus two of the seven must-knows.

Here, we list all seven.  THIS IS FOR EXECUTIVES. Read, share, distribute! You can even COMMENT below.

7 Press Release Must-Knows for the Executive Team

#1 N-e-w-s. No news, no news release. A release must share news to a relevant audience and be clearly evident by the editor and reporter. The difficult, ambiguous and often-changing challenge is the nature of “what’s news?” Beyond murder, scandal and other mayhem, news is subjective, or is news to a specific subset of publications and reporters. The city reporter at a daily newspaper won’t find news about a great event in Kaufman County if he or she writes for Collin County. A great new feature story about kids raising money for a cancer victim is a story.  If these kids are in Phoenix and you’re in Kansas City, not a story.

#2 The No-News News Release. Companies have plenty of these (too many, in fact.) In the day of pushing “news” and information to Twitter followers, Facebook friends and the like, there is a definite place for the No-News News Release. Write it just like any release, but instead of distributing via a wire service or to reporters, simply share internally, on the intranet, even as a posted news release  on your website’s online press room. What’s the value? It shows action, movement and progress. It furthers communications internally and externally. And it doesn’t irritate reporters who really don’t care that Clara Bell is celebrating 45 years as the company accountant.

#3 Fighting What’s Right vs. Writing Right.  Few executives understand this, or like it. Journalists adhere to “writing that’s right,” based on something called Associated Press Style. It’s a book—several hundred pages—that tells reporters how to write, abbreviate, capitalize and more. Sure, it’s quirky, perhaps even nonsensical. But it’s what you do because that is what reporters do. And our job is to help reporters in every way possible. Don’t let your communicators look foolish. Adhere to AP. This means:

  • No capitalized titles after your name. Sorry.
  • No all-uppercase headlines.
  • No usage of %; You spell out percent.
  • No comma in your company name, i.e. Acme Company Inc. NOT Acme Company, Inc.
  • Based in Texas? Don’t use TX. Texas must always be spelled out.

…and many more

#4 The Anguish of a Good Start. Ever started a race and tripped? It takes you down physically. Your Morale is flattened. The starting line for a news release has two parts: The Headline and the Lead Paragraph. Both are written to compel the reporter and reader to get a fast start that drives them through the entire announcement. In five to seven words, a headline must summarize the entire announcement. The lead paragraph does the same in a limit of 45 to 50 words. They can be agonizing. NOTE: These are the most important parts of the release. Unless they are false or inaccurate, leave them alone.

#5 Maximize Money & The Moment. A news release costs money, so maximize your investment with a good story (audience relevance) and strong story elements, such as:

  • C-level quotes
  • Customer quotes
  • Data, facts, statistics
  • How this story relates to a trend
  • Proof of the story by including your own customer survey data
  • Third-party sources such as industry analysts, consultants and influencers
  • Links back to support pages with data, charts, images and more

Avoid the Knee-Jerk News Release. “Hey, quick, we need a press release about (subject). Hurry! Can we get it today? Whoa, hond on Turbo.  I usually communicate with executives that fast turnaround on a news release is critical when there is breaking news. If  not, we then discuss how important it is to crank it out, el pronto. Here’s the process, dubbed D-I-E.

Discover. This is a simple Q&A: What’s news, who are the players, what’s the significance, are sources available immediately and what’s the confirmed need for such a quick turnaround.

Investigate. Investigate: From here, I look to others involved in the subject, get their take on what’s happening, its value, pertinence and likelihood that we can get a release written, sourced, reviewed and approved to distribute in a day?

Engage/Exit. If the answers ring true, I engage, get to working fast, gathering information, interviewing sources – even giving a heads up to a reporter who may want an exclusive. If the answers don’t ring true, I do a graceful exit by communicating back to the players and explaining the realities, and developing a solution that ensures that you respect their ideas and needs.

Believe in Your Communications Team. This is really important for you, your company and your professional communications team. Work together and create an environment where the executive team and communicators work together,  question, examine, agree and disagree … without worrying about pink slips and grudges. Avoid “delegate and dictate.” Let the team be honest, show their real colors and share Big Ideas.

Lastly, back to the news release. They aren’t magic, mystical or filled with the sounds of a Pied Piper that get media running to your door. A press release is one way to communicate–just one of many ways to share your story.

Got questions, want to learn more? Just ask.

We offer PRactical perspective.

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Small Biz & Big D(epression): See it, Admit it, Overcome it

Life is crazy-busy. That’s how Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling puts it. She’s right, especially if you own your own agency or small business. Add a coefficient of about 12 if you have employees.

The result is little sleep, little down time and a nervous energy that often manifests in anger, isolation, hysteria. And yes, depression.
I know of what I speak. I started RGM Communications in 2007. The initial euphoria of a long-held dream diminished when I experienced the daunting tasks of being Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Client Service Manager, Chief PR Strategist & Tactician and Chief Tax Payor. Plus Husband, Father, Coach, Errand Runner, Mommy #2, on and on. C-H-I-E-F. One boss from yesteryear used to tell me that employees will never be able to understand why the business owner is a crazy loon sometimes. He’s right. The pressures are relentless, with cash flow ever on the mind.

My point: Depression is real. It’s a dripping faucet that wastes personal resources such as energy, motivation, creativity and vision. And for us Driver types-–those of us who want to make it happen and will do whatever to make it happen, depression is a thorn that is hard to pull out and move on. It’s irritating, fueled by shame, and in some cases, a debilitating disease. That means sales swerve and hit highs and lows; action items fall through the cracks; excuses are too commonplace. And guilt rules every day.

Sounds hopeless. Sounds like it’s time to give up, give in and just forget it. And, perhaps, such confessions may risk client relations and sales prospects. That’s regretful since medical resources report that nine of 10 people suffer from depression. About 8.7 million people in this country received treatment for depression in 2007 compared to about 6.5 million in 1997.”

So is it hopeless? No. Giving up and giving in is not an option. It’s a sign that you must clarify what’s real, what’s not, and the work you need to do (or not do) to battle it. You now must become the Chief Personal-Care Officer. The Chief Self-Care Officer. There has to be a self-examination built on courage and support. Overcoming emotional chaos is built on the foundations of admitting your weakness (“Oh my god, not that!”) and then taking action.

Here are some steps to take when Big D creeps into your life:

Action. Decide that depression will not rule your life. Decide on actions and small steps that will clear the fog, offer hope and get you on track.

Admission. It’s time to look at yourself and affirm what you do best. And to admit what you don’t do well. Look at your career strengths and weaknesses, but also dig through what makes you tick and your flaws. Here’s The Big Secret no one ever talks about—or admits: We are all flawed. We’re all Damaged Goods, from kings and celebrities to presidents and paupers.

Accountability. It’s in our DNA to go it alone. To drive and push and cram and make “it” happen. We’re soloists, Lone Rangers, Supermen and Wonder Women. We do it alone. Not now, not this time. You and I need others to lean on. We need a trustworthy accountability partner that can cheer us on, challenge us, listen and empathize. Accountability shakes off the barnacles that push us into deep waters and destruction. Accountability is for strong men and women willing to be vulnerable. Willing to hear the hard stuff. And admitting it.

Check The Speed Limit. I have a lead foot. I push it all to the floor most of the time. I zip and zap so fast that I miss a lot. Check your speed limit, slow down a bit. Discover clouds in the sky again, or rays of sun breaking through the clouds. My favorite “breather” is just having a conversation with my 9-year-old. He recently told me he wished he could gather “air in a ball and throw it really hard.” Not sure what that means, but hey, it was fun talking about it. Slow it down.

God Stuff. Yeah, spirituality matters. It’s a quest to find solace in solitude. It is taking time to examine self, a Higher Power and matters of the heart. The result is usually profound personal discovery. Take it slow. Journal your thoughts. Read. Counsel.

Wise Counsel. Sometimes (usually) depression is too big, dark and scary to confront alone . That’s when professional counsel is required. Why do we fight it, and perceive seeing a counselor as a weakness vs. a strength? Doesn’t it take more character and courage to confront the issues than to avoid them and live through the personal hell for an entire lifetime? Find a quality counselor. That’s not always easy to do. Make sure you try three or four counselors before it feels right.

Meds. Who in America isn’t on anti-depressants? Depression may be because of external circumstances and relationships, or some emotional issue. What we forget is that depression can also be a chemical deficiency in our bodies and brains. Find out, get tested and talk to a psychiatrist. It can mean the difference between feeling a lifetime of gray to growing as a vibrant, vivacious person. Don’t settle for “what is.” Seek “What Can Be.”

My story of depression is too long (and depressing) to share here. But it’s real. And common. I admit that depression’s grip was unyielding. I’ve not always been at my best, nor do I profess Complete Restoration. I have “not arrived” but the journey is brighter, more hopeful and enjoyable.

Get back to business. Back to life and family and fun.

Enjoy the ride. It’s over before you know it.

–The PRactical PR Guy

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More Power to the Press Release, or Not?

The press release is to public relations what cows are to hamburgers. The press release takes raw information and grinds it up (re-formulated sounds nicer) to share a story that has news value to readers of the media.

News releases follow a specific style and approach that editors and reporters expect. They tell a story with facts and quotes, and avoid exaggeration, clichés and corporate baloney. The press release is the ever-loyal, ever-useful news-sharing tool. It is a Deity in PR.

But the world is a’changin. So what is the news release in today’s world? Increasingly, they are more concise and have an uber-immediacy to them.

So is the press release an ol’ tired dog? I think not. It’s adapting and still alerting the media. But there are other ways—better ways—to share your story, even when it’s not hard-breaking news. One source says Business Wire and PR Newswire send out 1,000 news releases every day. PRWeb? It shows 300 per day, according to the source. Essentially you’re in a knife fight for a reporter’s attention.

Share Your Story in Other Ways

The Story Idea. So what exactly is the story and “news,” and will it pass muster with a reporter or editor? That’s where PR practitioners must do the tough work and talk tough with clients. For example, is it news when a company receives an award? Should a news release be written and distributed to media? Probably not, unless it’s the Nobel or Baldridge Award. What can make this award a relevant and compelling story? Can a story be formulated that broadens the story into a trend, with the award a sub-fact that serves to qualify your client as an innovator? Is there a story direction that delivers valuable insights about how a company–or companies–demonstrate quantifiable excellence and innovation?

The Story Idea–a written and/or verbal pitch–is the PR professional’s primary skill (quality writing and a “news nose.”)  We build the story with key players and potential trends, then back them up with interesting elements and/or hard data. The story will be best with multiple story sources, such as your client, an industry expert and at least one other (a customer).  A solid pitch in writing or in a call with a reporter is often worth more than 100 news releases.

The Bylined Article. The monthly issue of Banana Growers Today magazine is published. Go to page 12 to see Abe Gorilla’s photo next to a headline and page header named “Opinion.” Abe is your client. He’s a banana grower and he’s addressing the issue of “Green & Yellow Bananas: Too Ripe for Consumers?” You placed the story, wrote it for Abe, had him review and tweak, then you submitted it to the publication. They like it. And now it’s published. Now Abe can use that story to promote the company to prospects, customers, even employees. The bylined article turns company executives into subject-matter experts.

The Editorial Calendar. Why write a press release that may get marginal coverage (or none at all), depending on news value, media deadlines, breaking news and more? An alternative approach that often yields results is to identify the most relevant publications read by a client’s target market, then review each publication’s editorial calendar, a document that tells exactly what subjects are being covered by a publication. They are usually listed by month or issue date.  This generally gives the client a bigger presence and a stronger story.

Blog Posting and Bloggers. Reaching out to bloggers isn’t secndary anymore. They are as influential–even more so–than traditional media. Whether they are “citizen journalists” with expertise, or personalities from newspapers or analyst firms, they can draw interest to your client’s expertise, insights and announcements. In addition, make sure the client is using social media effectively as well. They can propagate their presence among prospects, customers, employees and suppliers by reaching out to them online.

Customer Braggarts. What’s better than someone tooting your horn? It’s sure more tasty for a reporter to hear how great you are from external sources than hearing you or your paid PR person to brag about you. Get customers involved in your PR efforts. Write case studies. Even consider writing a news release, story pitch or other means that come directly from them to the media. You do the work. They get the glory. And so does your client.

So, is the press release still the Lord of the Corporate World? Just how potent or impotent is it today? Our opinion: It’s overused and often a waste of money and resources. But dead? Not so much.

The PRactical PR Guy

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Filed under Media, news release, PR agencies, press release, Public Relations, RGM Communications, Small Business, Social Media